8:00 PM ET, December 23, 2002
Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Kenny Walker had one of the best games of his career to make sure Alabama's first ever No. 1 ranking by The Associated Press wasn't a fly-by-night deal.So why wasn't he smiling? ''The No. 1 ranking just makes it harder on us,'' Walker said after scoring 24 points in an 82-64 victory over Morehead State on Monday night. ''We don't feel like we're No. 1.''And they're not according to ESPN/USA Today, which has Alabama ranked No. 3. And at times, the Crimson Tide didn't play like a high-ranking team, regardless if it was No. 1 or No. 3. Walker and Mo Williams saved Alabama (9-0) from a nerve-racking ending, at least, combining for 35 points after the team went down 41-39 with 16:45 left. ''We took a good shot from them,'' Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried said. Williams had 21 points and seven assists as the Tide survived life at the top for at least one week. Walker added six blocks, and Emmett Thomas scored 12 points. The Tide, which has won 25 consecutive home games, gets a week off before playing at Utah. ''Every night we've got a big target on our back,'' guard Antoine Pettway said. ''Everybody's going to try to knock us off now.'' Marquis Sykes and Ricky Minard each scored 17 points for Morehead State (4-4), which made sure Alabama didn't get to take Monday night off. The players seemed more excited about the chance to go home for a few days for Christmas than the high rankings. ''It's not a big deal,'' said Erwin Dudley, who had seven points and 12 rebounds. ''We've still got to go out and play. It just makes the target bigger for us.'' The Tide shot 54.8 percent in the second half and committed only seven turnovers. Alabama blocked seven shots and recorded eight steals. Chez Marks gave the Eagles the lead briefly, capping an 11-2 run to open the second half with a basket and free throw. Williams answered 13 seconds later with a 3-pointer and Dudley followed with a three-point play to start a 13-0 run that Walker capped with a dunk. ''We looked around and it was like, 'Hey, we've got a game,''' Williams said. Morehead State cut the lead to seven points several times after that, the final one with 7:43 left. Then, Williams and Walker scored Alabama's next nine points and 13 of the final 15. ''We're not big enough or physical enough to where we can stand there and jump with these guys,'' said Morehead State coach Kyle Macy, a former Kentucky player. The Tide didn't change what carried the team to the top: Using good defense to trump bad offense. Alabama missed its first five shots before hitting seven in a row to start a 21-6 run and take a 25-12 lead after an early deficit. The Tide had other stretches of 0-for-6 and 0-for-9 in the first half but still led 37-30 against the undersized and overmatched Eagles. ''I didn't know how our players would respond to this,'' Gottfried said. ''In the first half, they were so giddy and excited, even in the locker room.'' Alabama didn't commit a turnover for the first 10 minutes and held the nation's fifth-best shooting team to 36 percent before halftime. Meade, who hadn't reached double digits in the past six games, scored 11 before halftime for the Tide. He also offered a word of advice for handling the current lofty heights. ''We can't let it get to our heads,'' Meade said.